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Education Advocacy Group Hopes To Repeal Voucher Expansion Bill With Referendum

(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
More than 100 people came out to the rally supporting the move to let voters decide the fate of SB 1431.

A new education advocacy group wants voters to have the last word on Arizona’s controversial private school-voucher expansion law. Save Our Schools Arizona needs to collect more than 75,000 voter signatures to make that happen.

The group held a rally outside the Capitol Monday afternoon to kick off their effort. Officials say they plan to submit official paperwork this week so they can begin the signature-gathering process.

Beth Lewis is the group’s chair. She said they got the idea to try to repeal the law with a voter referendum the day after the state Legislature passed SB 1431. 

"And we said you know we have to stand up to this," Lewis said. "The voters clearly don’t want this. Parents don’t want this. Teachers don’t want this."

She acknowledged there is a risk that if voters decide to overturn the policy, the Legislature could pass another expansion law but adds, "I think that if voters say that they want this awful bill to be repealed, it would be politically inadvisable to most new legislators next year to go ahead an put it back on the books."

Republican state Sen. Debbie Lesko is the bill’s sponsor. She defends the legislation arguing that allowing more families to use what’s formally known as an Empowerment Scholarship Account is just expanding parents’ school-choice options.

"What are these people afraid of?" asked Lesko. "If their school does a good job, the parents will choose their school. 

If Save Our Schools Arizona collects enough signatures to get the question on the November 2018 ballot in the next 90 days, the bill signed into law last month will be put on hold until the vote.

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Carrie Jung Senior Field Correspondent, Education Desk Carrie Jung began her public radio career in Albuquerque, N.M., where she fell in love with the diverse cultural scene and unique political environment of the Southwest. Jung has been heard on KJZZ since 2013 when she served as a regular contributor to the Fronteras Desk from KUNM Albuquerque. She covered several major stories there including New Mexico's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and Albuquerque's failed voter initiative to ban late-term abortions. Jung has also contributed stories about environmental and Native American issues to NPR's Morning Edition, PRI's The World, Al Jazeera America, WNYC's The Takeaway, and National Native News. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marketing, both from Clemson University. When Jung isn't producing content for KJZZ she can usually be found buried beneath mounds of fabric and quilting supplies. She recently co-authored a book, "Sweet And Simple Sewing," with her mother and sister, who are fabric designers.